Back in medieval England on Twelfth Night exactly 950 years ago to this very day, there were 3 notable events in London and the newly built Westminster Abbey played host to two of them.
The Burial of King Edward III
Also known as Edward The Confessor, this English medieval king had died just the day before. The construction of Westminster Abbey had been undertaken at his instigation so it was just and proper he should be the first monarch to be buried there.
The Coronation of King Harold
The new King of England was crowned in Westminster Abbey. Harold Godwinson claimed to have been named Edward’s heir when Edward was on his deathbed. William Duke of Normandy, however, had a different understanding. He claimed that Edward, who was a blood relative, had promised him the crown and moreover, that Harold had sworn an oath of allegiance to him whilst in Normandy to support his claim to the English throne. The result of this ‘disagreement’ of course was seen later in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.
The speed with which Harold had himself crowned king has been questioned for almost a thousand years. Such speed is normally associated with those who feel they do not have a fully legitimate claim. However, there is another reason why he might have chosen 6 January as the date for his coronation – the Feast of Epiphany when all the important nobles of England were expected to gather at Westminster Abbey.
Twelfth Night Celebrations
The Feast of Epiphany was very important in the medieval religious calendar of 11th century Europe and the new, magnificent Westminster Abbey was the obvious choice for Epiphany celebration in January 1066. There would of course have been celebrations afterwards involving food and drink, perhaps in the style of a medieval banquet.
Twelfth Night Food & Drink
There was a special drink deemed an important part of the celebrations – a type of hot mulled punch called wassail. One of the earliest recorded recipes for wassail was ale brewed with honey into which roasted crab apples were dropped and mashed. Wassail recipes have changed over the years to become more of a mulled cider type of drink with the inclusion of spices such as ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Other recipe variations have a base of wine or fruit juice and some people like to add sherry or brandy.
There was also another tradition relating to medieval Twelfth Night – the cake with a bean in it! Twelfth Night marked the end of a special winter festival that started on Halloween (All Hallows Eve as it was then called). At the beginning of this festival people would gather to eat a special cake. The cake contained a single bean and whoever found the bean in their piece of cake would rule the feast with their ‘rule’ coming to an end at midnight on All Hallows Eve. If you would like to read more about medieval food visit my main page which offers links to individual food and drink recipes.